Excited and Courageous

Dublin Castle has hosted many historical events but many not as exciting as the inaugural Excited Digital Learning Festive hosted there this weekend.

International thought leaders, teachers, young people and EdTech enterprises from all over Ireland descended on The Castle to witness the passion of teachers, the voice of a new generation of articulate and confident young people and witnessed a minister who is passionately connected to making a difference in how education is delivered to our young people.

The Festival was opened with Minister Cannon on piano accompanied by a young Galway student on guitar playing True Colours.


Then Oscar winning producer Sir David Puttnam set the scene by advising us that it is an economic imperative that we embrace a digital education and we have only a limited time frame in which to change.  This urgency of transformation was referred to by all industry speakers and the underlying fear is clear – if the education system doesn’t change:

  1. It will become increasingly irrelevant for young people who are digitally connected.
  2. We will be left behind by many countries and become economically disadvantaged.
  3. We will continue to fail to recognise and respond to many of the skills and aptitudes of young people

There were a number of take aways from the weekend.

The passion and frustration of the teachers voice was evident – teachers clearly want to deliver the best quality education they can to each child; however, they realise that in order to do this in a digitally enabled way they need:

  1. High-speed connectivity in each classroom (always on like water but without the meter we were told!!)
  2. A proper IT support service for schools – without this the frustration will continue.
  3. Real professional development for teachers – professional development which builds on their professionalism as educators, delivered by people who understand both pedagogy and education.
  4. An assessment system which will value and reward students who are involved in collaborative, enquiry-based work.

It was also evident that huge ‘pockets’ of innovation and outstanding practice exist in our schools. However, as the digital transformation is not main-stream it is generally down to the evangelical enthusiasm of individual teachers and school leaders to make a difference – and there were plenty examples of them this weekend. One of the winners of the BT Young Scientist Competition,  Emer Hickey told us about how ‘Young Scientists’ are made. She said that in many schools it is just the science teacher and a few students get involved in the competition, but in Kinsale Community School  over 100 students enter the competition – it is not only the science teachers that are involved  but the English teachers, the Geography teachers, indeed any teacher that can help. And it doesn’t stop there, the school has strong links with local industry, students go to their labs and get assistance from professionals in the field and of course, she added, when you go down town, people always ask about the BT Young Scientist competition. So it is not only the school that is educating the young people but the community and the school is very much integrated into that community. The impact of these ‘pockets’ of innovation and good practice on the young people was very evident; it really did make a difference. If the pockets of innovation and good practice were main-streamed the effect on our educational standard and experience could be transformative.

The student voice as represented at the event was articulate, confident and forward looking. In many ways they stole the show – their summary of the needs aligned with the adults, but delivered without the ‘burden of experience’ which has so often led to frustration among the teaching professionals.


There was universal admiration this weekend for the vision and passion of Minister Cannon. He spoke to us as valued professionals without reference to economic constraints, cut-backs or recession. His vision set the tone for the event. Nobody underestimates the enormity of the task he has undertaken but for the delegates who attended this event, failure is not an option as postponing the digital transformation in our education will have a negative impact on the life chances of many young people and a long-term impact on our economic growth.

I wonder, however, given the enormity of the task he has undertaken and the timescales he has imposed, can the results be achieved through central Government – I fear not. Maybe the next phase for the Excited movement will not be the ‘What needs to happen?’ phase, but ‘How can it happen?’  Then the collaborate, creative and growth mindset which we are hoping to inoculate in our young people will have to be exploited by us adults in conjunction with the young people and industry partners to make this transformation a reality within the timescales required.


Philip O’Callaghan
Managing Director of Learning Data